Part I—The Job
Authors: justslummin and Midnight Obsidian
Disclaimer: Don't own 'em. Just playin' in Joss' sandbox.
Summary: Follows the events of "Four of a Kind" in the continuing Mal/River storyline. The crew of the Hit or Miss gets a new job.
Marcus Hazzard walked along the streets of Persephone with an easy, long-legged stride. Feeling more than a little pleased with himself for securing a job that promised to pay enough to take a decent vacation somewhere, he found himself looking into the shop windows he passed along the way. Things had been going exceptionally well for the crew of the Hit or Miss, and Marcus couldn't help but think that Elizabeth Striker had brought a string of good luck with her when she joined the crew.
He paused at one display, the thought occurring to him that more often than not now, his mind seemed to always gravitate to the pretty lady doctor he'd hired. Something about the way she looked at him over the galley table made him all manner of hungry and inexplicably peaceful at the same time. He thought it passing strange that she should elicit such a strong reaction in him, but it was undeniable nonetheless.
"S'not her color," Bear said, following Marcus' line of vision.
Marcus felt his ears turning red. "I don't know what you're talking about," he said with all the conviction he could muster.
"'Course you do," Bear replied calmly. "But I'm thinkin' maybe the little blue one over there…" He pointed with his huge paw to a display further in the store.
Marcus couldn't help but look. His mouth dropped open as he saw the negligee to which Bear was pointing. "Ain't a yard of material in that one. And you can see right through it," he said, vaguely shocked.
Bear grinned. "Makes it just about right, then," he said. "If you're plannin' what I think you're plannin'."
"Ain't plannin' a thing 'cept the job," Marcus said doggedly.
Bear raised one eyebrow. "And the job requires you to moon about over lingerie displays in the middle of the street?"
"Wasn't mooning about," Marcus replied, feeling the heat rise to his face. "Just stopped here for a minute to catch my breath."
"Uh huh," Bear said, leaning against the store window. "Think you might need to sit down?"
"No," Marcus replied testily. "Nor you either. We need to get back to the ship."
Bear followed, shaking his head at the transparency of his Captain where the doctor was concerned.
"So, we're on for tonight, 'less anybody sees a problem with it," Marcus said sometime later, leaning over the schematics for the art gallery.
Murdocke looked at the security system specs once again and nodded. "No problem from my end," he said. "These systems are a cakewalk."
Pierre nodded as well. "Simple extraction, once Murdocke works his little magic on the internal sensors. Looks to me like the hardest part will be just getting back to the Hit or Miss with the pieces."
Marcus shook his head. "Not all that many of them to worry over when I went through there today. Between the four of us, we can haul the whole lot of them to the loader in one trip. In and out." He looked up and caught Elizabeth's eye. "Any problem with this, doctor?" he asked.
Elizabeth sighed. "None," she answered, though secretly she was feeling less thrilled with this job than some of the others the Captain had accepted. Still, she supposed that the crew had to eat, and she had known when she took the position with them that sometimes her sensibilities might be mildly offended by the kind of work they had to do to live.
"All right then," Marcus said. "Then I expect we need to get some rest, bein' as how we'll be busy tonight."
Darkness fell, and Marcus and his men maneuvered the loader as quietly as possible through the deserted streets. "You weren't lyin' when you said they roll up the sidewalks in this part of town at sundown," Pierre observed.
Marcus grinned. "Makes our job that much easier, doesn't it?"
Pierre nodded as he parked the loader in the alley behind the art gallery. Murdocke slipped out of the vehicle, already fiddling with the tiny device that would disable the security system in moments. Marcus stood in the shadows, watching the ease with which Murdocke did his job and thinking there was a good reason the perennially obnoxious man was still on his crew.
"Got it," Murdocke said, his teeth flashing white against the dark mask he wore.
Marcus nodded. "Bear," he said, inclining his head toward the door.
Bear stepped through the door of the gallery and moved stealthily into the darkened interior. Marcus and Pierre followed, leaving Murdocke to stand guard outside. Within minutes, they had gathered all the pieces their client had requested. Moving in smooth tandem from years of working closely together, they filled the loader with their stolen goods and headed back to the ship without so much as one glitch.
Elizabeth sat in the galley, nursing a cup of strong coffee. Hearing them arrive back right on schedule, she breathed a sigh of relief. It was purely shocking, she thought fleetingly, how much she worried for Marcus' safety each time he went out on a job. The reaction didn't bear close inspection just yet, she decided.
Walking gracefully to the steps leading down into the cargo hold where they were busily unloading the goods, she smiled warmly. "I take it everything went off without a hitch, as I don't hear the tramp of Alliance boots approaching."
Marcus grinned up at her. "Slick as spit," he said.
"Good to know," she replied, wondering at what point such a phrase had grown to be so pleasant to her ears. "So, we'll be taking off now?"
"No, not just yet. Bein' as everything went so well, I thought it would be safe enough to stay here one more day. Maybe get some shopping done, seeing as how there won't be much in the way of supplies where we're going."
When Elizabeth frowned, he continued. "Thought you might like some sundries to take with you when we find a place to rest a spell. After all, with the take from this job, we should be able to have a decent sort of vacation."
"Sounds lovely," Elizabeth said, wondering what sort of place Marcus might deem a decent vacation spot. "In that case, I will bid you all good night. A lady has to have her strength for shopping."
To the chorus of good nights from each of the others, she walked back up the stairs to her room and went to bed.
The following morning dawned cool and clear, and Marcus found himself in a particularly good mood when the other men on the ship wandered off on their own to pick up their supplies, leaving him alone with Elizabeth.
"Shall we?" he said, offering her his arm as he secured the ship and walked out into the sunlight.
When she took his arm, he felt vaguely like a school boy on his first date. "Fine weather this morning," he said, just to have something to say.
Elizabeth squinted up at the sky. "So it is," she agreed amiably.
"So where would you like to go?" he asked.
Elizabeth blushed prettily. "Oh, truth be told, I didn't have any shopping to do at all. Thought I'd just like to take a walk, unless you need something, that is."
"My needs are few," Marcus said, grinning. "I'd like a walk myself."
They ambled slowly through the narrow streets, stopping to look at anything that caught their eye along the way. Elizabeth felt the sun warming her back and thought that Marcus was quite possibly the most pleasant man she had ever known.
Marcus, for his part, was minutely aware of her tiny hand on his arm and the way her blonde hair shone like spun gold in the sunlight. Thinking he'd never had anyone so lovely walk beside him, he smiled happily.
"Marcus! Marcus Hazzard!"
Marcus turned toward the sound of his name, squinting as it placed the sun directly in his line of vision. "Mal?" he asked, shading his eyes.
"In the flesh," Mal replied, pumping his hand enthusiastically and nodding in acknowledgement to Elizabeth. "Didn't know you were on Persephone."
"Just doing a little job," Marcus replied. "But we will be leaving today. How about you?"
"Here for Inara," Mal replied. "She had some business to attend to, so we came along."
Marcus was about to say something else when Mal's comm unit beeped loudly. "Hold on," Mal said, flipping the receive button.
River's voice floated into the air. "Ai ren, we have a problem," she said.
"What is it?" Mal asked, his good humor evaporating rapidly with her tone.
"It's Inara," River replied. "Someone has apparently stolen the entire collection."
Marcus' pulse began to pump loudly in his ears as he heard River's words. Elizabeth gripped his arm tightly, suppressing a little gasp.
"Thought they told her that place was secure," Mal said, beginning to curse.
"Apparently not as secure as they thought," River replied.
"Gorram it," Mal muttered. "All right, tell her I'll be there in a few minutes, and we'll find the hundans as took it." Turning to Marcus, he said, "Sorry about that, but I guess I gotta go. It was nice seein' you again."
"Mal, wait," Marcus said, dreading the words he was about to say. "Inara's business here, it wouldn't be an art exhibit by any chance, would it? At the Seventh Street Gallery?"
"Yeah, how'd you know?" Mal asked, frowning.
Marcus sighed heavily. "Because I think I know who has the paintings."
To be continued